President Donald Trump on Monday made a last-ditch plea to US Senate Republicans to ''do the right thing'' and repeal and replace former President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, as the Senate prepared to vote on Tuesday on whether to open debate on an overhaul of the law.
A peeved President Trump told Republican opponents of his party's reeling health care bill that his predecessor's signature overhaul has meant "death" and saying the Senate's planned faceoff vote is their chance to keep their pledge to repeal it.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell promised an open amendment process and a ''robust'' debate. McConnell, R-Ky, said he's "made a commitment to the people I represent" to undo Obamacare.
Trump said at the White House, ''To every member of the Senate I say this: The American people have waited long enough. There's been enough talk, and no action. Now is the time for action.''
Standing in front of families who he said had been hurt by Obamacare, Trump said, ''So far, Senate Republicans have not done their job in ending the Obamacare nightmare.''
It remained unclear on Monday whether McConnell had enough votes in the Senate to open debate, but he said the vote would take place regardless. ''I know many of us have waited years for this moment to finally arrive. And, at long last, it finally has. I would urge every colleague to join me,'' McConnell said.
McConnell did not describe precisely what version of the GOP legislation senators would be voting on, though No. 2 House GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas said later that Republicans would discuss that at a private lunch before the vote. That omission has caused confusion and frustration among some Republican senators, according to The Associated Press.
At the White House, Trump lambasted Democrats who helped enact the 2010 health care law and uniformly oppose the GOP attempt to scrap and rewrite it.
"They run out and say, 'Death, death, death,'" Trump said, with a backdrop of families that he said have encountered problems getting affordable, reliable medical coverage because of Obama's statute. "Well, Obamacare is death. That's the one that's death."
Senator John McCain, who has been battling brain cancer in his home state of Arizona, is expected to return to the Senate to cast a vote, his office said on Monday.
Moderate Senator Susan Collins, who has vocally opposed McConnell's efforts so far, said on Monday she would vote ''no'' on a motion to proceed.
Republicans have been under heavy political pressure to make good on their longstanding campaign promises to overhaul the 2010 law, which they view as a government intrusion in the healthcare market. But the party is deeply divided between moderates concerned the Senate bill would eliminate insurance for millions of low-income Americans and conservatives who want to see even deeper cuts to the Obamacare legislation.
Senate Republicans have been unable to reach consensus on an approach, with McConnell failing to secure enough votes for either a repeal and replacement of Obamacare or a straight repeal.
Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the 100-member Senate. With Democrats united in opposition, McConnell can only afford to lose two Republican votes.
''The question for every senator, Democrat or Republican, is whether they will side with Obamacare's architects, which have been so destructive to our country, or its forgotten victims?'' Trump said.
While Trump has repeatedly called on Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare, he has shown little interest in the policy specifics, according to Reuters. Trump last week initially suggested he was fine with letting Obamacare collapse, then urged Republican senators to hash out a deal. His remarks on Monday were among the lengthiest statements he has made regarding healthcare.
McConnell will ask senators whether to begin debate on the healthcare bill passed in May by the House of Representatives. If that procedural vote succeeds, the House bill would then be open for amendment on the Senate floor.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated the Senate's replacement bill could lead to as many as 22 million fewer Americans being insured.
A plan to repeal Obamacare without replacing it could cost 32 million Americans their health insurance by 2026, CBO estimated. At the same time, premiums on individual insurance plans would rise 25 per cent next year and double by 2026 if Obamacare is repealed, CBO said.
Uncertainty over the future of healthcare has left health insurance companies and US states as well as hospitals and doctors unclear about future funding and coverage. Public opinion polls also show Americans worried about potential changes to the healthcare system.